If Part One in this series piqued your interest in the basic principles of intuitive eating, let’s jump right back in with the next three principles. (Or skip ahead to Part Three or Part Four if you’re eager.)
Honor Your Hunger
The problem with diets, meal plans, macro tracking, fasting protocols, etc. (aka diets) is they do NOT allow for deviation to compensate for biological signaling of hunger. True hunger on a physical level should be a sensation to identify, respect, and HONOR not ignore.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that exalts the idea of willpower to be steadfast in the face of hunger in the name of HEALTH! This is bullshit.
Hunger is a biological cue. Learning to recognize and not try to mask or trick your internal hunger is a crucial part of learning how to become an intuitive eater.
Delaying meals, prolonging your hunger, relying on tricks (drink a glass of water, drink tea, chew gum…) and reaching a point of ravenous and miserable is not praise-worthy. Hangry is not a health promoting endeavor. It’s a sign and symptom of not meeting your body’s basic needs, buying into diet culture and disallowing for body autonomy while handing it over to a “health guru” who fed you a plan, a program, an idea that you shouldn’t be able to trust your own body’s cues.
Some “experts” love to claim the science or ancestral health or “primal cycles” involving periods of feast and famine, but at the end of the day, this preoccupation with hunger trickery is steeped in diet culture and does nothing to promote attunement with your own body and is really quite dire in terms of a long term commitment.
On the flip-side, learning to recognize physical symptoms of hunger can assist you in actually caring for your body’s requirements – without the need for external rules or recommendations to dictate your feeding schedule.
Make Peace With Food
This may be the most difficult of all the intuitive eating concepts because, for those steeped in diet mentality, it means identifying the off-limit foods, the fear foods, the trigger foods and habituating them back into life. Akin to the first principle: “break free from dieting”, making peace with food means not giving food a pedestal of good or bad. It means taking those “trigger” foods, those “bad” foods, those “binge” foods and destigmatizing them and bringing all foods to neutral.
Yes, there are foods that are more nutrient dense than others. Many people exalt these so-called “super foods” or “healthy foods” or “clean foods”. But these foods are not morally superior and the health promoting benefits of many food items are usually greatly overstated and the health “risks” of less nutrient dense foods are often blown out of proportion as well by fear-mongering, sensationalist media and money and fame hungry “diet experts”.
Everyone has a litany of foods they feel guilty, shameful, or even angry about indulging in. JUNK FOOD IS BAD! You are addicted to that food! You will DIE if you eat that food. That food promotes Alzheimer’s and cancer and, and, and….SCIENCE dictates these are horrible, horrible choices! You must NEVER eat that food again!
While it’s true that some foods are more health promoting than others, an essential piece of being an intuitive and competent eater lies in being able to enjoy and eat anything at any time, with no guilt, no shame, no fear and even no anger. All foods should be viewed neutrally and in the context of what’s appealing, what’s going to be satisfying, and how that choice is going to FEEL in your body.
Often times when we categorize foods as good and bad we set ourselves up to deprive and then over-consume and consequently feel bad about the choices we make. When we hold certain foods to a standard under the belief that we must not eat them, we give them power. This power tends to lead to over-consumption, guilt, and an overall negative relationship to the food.
By accepting and making peace with all foods, bringing all foods back to neutral, the tendency to abuse or get out of control dissipates.
This is not a simple process for most people, especially people under the diet mentality spell. One key to making peace with food is by habituating each binge food or forbidden food BACK into your life, one-by-one. If you’ve ever had a “naughty” food – bring it home in large quantities. Allow yourself access and permission to eat as much and as frequently as wanted — not in a “bingefest” and guilty manner, but in full, unconditional permission to NEVER restrict each food item ever again. With the understanding that you can have more later as often as you like.
It’s the deprivation mindset and guilty mindset that gives power to these foods. Full permission to eat whatever you want, whenever you want it is the key to cultivating a healthy relationship to ALL foods. Not merely a relationship to healthy foods.
See the difference?
For those who fear you would never stop eating chips and chocolate if you had “permission” – believe me, you would NOT find eating only chips and chocolate for a month straight to be a very satisfying or pleasant experience. But you have to trust your body will sort this out and pay attention, guilt free, and let go of the fear that you cannot trust yourself to self-regulate your appetite. It will take practice. And it will usually take eating a lot of a previously forbidden food. But after a while, through habituation, the novelty will wear off. The allure of the forbidden fruit will pass. You may even discover you don’t even LIKE your “forbidden” foods as much as you once did, once you’re actually allowed to eat them guilt-free.
Challenge the Food Police
Drawing on the previous principles of “breaking free from diet mentality” and “making peace with food” comes this next gem: challenging the food police.
Yes, nutrition facts and diet dogma and weight-loss-for-health rhetoric are pervasive in the world we live in. Trying to have a neutral and healthy relationship to food is usurped by the need to have a “healthy food” relationship. Because of this, there’s typically an omnipresent food police shouting “good food” and “bad food” and all kinds of judgments on the choices you’re making.
It doesn’t have to be this way, although it takes practice to recognize and reject this unhelpful voice.
The food police will keep you stuck in the black-and-white thinking of diet mentality, which will consequentially keep you stuck in the good food/bad food mentality. This type of mindset and the loud voice from the food police leads to both mental and physical food deprivation and restriction which further promotes overeating or adds to the guilt and shame factor when you deviate from a prescribed plan or “lifestyle”.
Challenging the food police means habituating ALL foods back into your life and allowing your emotion, instinct, and rational thought to interplay and decide what’s satisfying or not.